Adrenal Fatigue, HPA Axis, and You
Do you find yourself always exhausted, gaining weight, craving sweet or salty foods, and experiencing brain fog? If so, you may have an adrenal issue.
While the term “adrenal fatigue” is a popular classification of adrenal dysfunction, the body’s stress response is actually quite complex and involves a range of systems, one of which is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA axis). This is the main system involved with the stress response and its chief function is the release of glucocorticoids, which are hormones that activate this response. Cortisol is one of the principal hormones involved.
Those who experience HPA dysfunction are always in a state of fight or flight and release unsustainable levels of cortisol that eventually exhaust the adrenals. However, what is often overlooked in classifying “adrenal fatigue” is that many who have symptoms of adrenal fatigue actually have normal or high levels of cortisol.
Keep in mind that if you are experiencing adrenal symptoms, it may genuinely be adrenal insufficiency or extremely low cortisol in the case of Addison’s disease. It’s best to be seen by your physician to know for sure!
Potential causes of HPA axis dysfunction:
- Chronic stress
- Emotional trauma
- Poor diet
- Negative thinking
- Brain fog
- Chronic fatigue
- Hair loss
- Irritability and mood swings
- Sleep issues
- Craving sweet and salty foods
- Weight gain
- Tired during the day, wired at night
The Connection Between Autoimmunity and HPA Dysregulation
HPA axis dysfunction is often found in those with multiple sclerosis. While it is not well understood as to why this dysfunction manifests in those with MS, researchers suspect it is due to general hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis hyperactivity, disordered orexin neurotransmission, and abnormal cortisol secretion.
Moreover, this study found that “dysregulation of extra-adrenal glucocorticoid production can play a key role in a variety of autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus erythematosus (LE), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and skin inflammatory disorders such as psoriasis and atopic dermatitis (AD).”
Lifestyle Tips for Healing and Regeneration
Don’t underestimate the power of lifestyle choices in healing HPA dysfunction. Keeping a positive outlook and avoiding negative thinking and negative people is crucial. When we are exposed to negativity, whether through our own thinking or by those surrounding us, it triggers a subtle stress response that keeps us in an unhealthy cycle of hormonal imbalance.
Maintaining stable blood sugar levels is also important. Eating enough protein like wild-caught fish, free range eggs, and grass-fed, organic meats will help to encourage sustained energy throughout the day without sugar crashes. High-quality fats such as coconut, avocado, and nuts are a smart choice as well. Avoid carb-rich meals and refined carbohydrates, including: sugar, breads, pastas, cookies, and cakes. Instead focus on non-starchy vegetables and leafy greens. Make sure to eat small, regular meals.
Additionally, stress-relieving practices and gentle exercise will calm HPA dysfunction and assist with balancing your system. Yoga, medication, singing, massage, gratitude journaling, spending time in nature, hobbies, and gardening are all excellent options.
Maintaining a regular sleep schedule and resting during the day when fatigued are also important habits, as is laughter and finding joy in life.
Beyond a B-vitamin complex, selenium, fish oil, licorice root, and vitamin D, adaptogens are one of the best choices for healing adrenal issues. As I wrote in The Lost Book of Herbal Remedies: The Power of Plant Medicine:
“Adaptogens help our bodies deal with the negative aspects of stress, such as inflammation, hormonal imbalances, increased cortisol levels, fatigue, and low energy levels. They help with quality of sleep, adrenal fatigue, and with immune function.”
An excellent review was published in the journal Chinese Medicine that goes into great detail about the benefits of adaptogens if you would like to learn more.
Alleviating the depression, fatigue, insomnia, and anxiety that often accompanies HPA axis dysregulation, reishi mushroom taken regularly can dramatically improve a sense of wellbeing and quality of life. It also helps to regulate blood sugar and improves blood flow and oxygenation. I personally use it every day. It’s an exceptional botanical for autoimmune disorders, cancer, liver function, and cardiovascular health as well.
Cordyceps improves circulation, balances blood sugar, and increases energy and stamina. It is an outstanding herbal remedy for chronic fatigue. What’s more, it improves overall brain function, memory, and learning. It’s also an excellent remedy for colds, the flu, respiratory ailments, kidney issues, and has been traditionally used to prevent and treat cancer and tumor growth.
A rejuvenating adaptogenic herb, ashwagandha reduces cortisol in chronically stressed adults, stabilizes moods, alleviates depression and anxiety, improves vitality, and boosts endurance. It is one of the best herbs you can use to protect the brain from emotional, physical, and chemical stress. Many report improvement in mental acuity, memory, and processing speed while using ashwagandha. It may also be useful in treating neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Lion’s mane mushroom is an adaptogen well-known for its ability to protect and regenerate the brain not only from the ravages of chronic or acute stress, but also from the damage caused by brain and neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis.
If you would like to try an easy-to-use tincture formulation that supports the healthy functioning of the HPA axis, reishi, ashwagandha, and lion’s mane are included in my Anxiety & Stress Tincture, along with stress-relieving lemon balm. A stand-alone Cordyceps Tincture is also available in the Apothecary. Interested in all 4 adaptogenic mushrooms? Try my Mushroom FOURtress, – I use all four of these daily.
Regaining Your Health and Living Vibrantly
When you are struggling with a HPA axis dysfunction, it can seem like you will never regain your health or vitality. But don’t lose hope. By embracing positive lifestyle habits, revamping your diet, and tapping into the power of medicinal herbs and other supplements, you can, once again, live a vibrant life.